With the 2019 season having come to a conclusion, it’s time to look ahead to the next step along the road to 2020 for Utah Football. With 13 starters leaving the program, including nine on the defensive side of the football, there will be plenty of new faces and competitions galore in what might be one of the more intriguing and important spring camps in recent memory. UteZone is here to break down the most likely candidates to land on the two deep by position group, with an eye on potential prospects that could emerge once spring practice begins. Today we’ll be looking at the safeties position group.
Player Pool(Based on Experience/Starts)
Returning Players with starts: Nephi Sewell(JR-TR), RJ Hubert(JR-INJ)
Returning Backups/Rotation:Vonte Davis(SR-TR), Nygel King(RS-SR), Aaron Lowe(SO), Drew Rawls(RS-FR)
In The Program/Arriving in Spring: Keala Santiago(SR-TR), Jayden Clemons(RS-FR) Ben Renfro(FR)
Breaking news alert, Utah has some serious lack of experience at the safety position going into spring practices. Nephi Sewell will likely split time at both safety and linebacker, assuming that the staff feels comfortable enough with the development of the young players at the safety position. Vonte Davis saw time in limited situations, and he will be counted on to be much more reliable and disciplined in his play from last season. Nygel King is listed as playing safety on the school website, but he’s also split time at corner in the past, but given the need for experience in the secondary it’s likely that he starts out at safety just to add experience to the mix. Rawls has experience but was always projected as a development type, and Renfro will be playing safety for the first time ever, so expectations for him are likely low starting out.
Vonte Davis gets the nod here over Sewell despite being listed on previous depth charts as a strong safety mostly out of need, but also out of experience at the position. He played in six games last season and was a three star prospect coming out of Blinn College in Texas, where he only played for a year before coming to Utah. He should be expected to lead the group, especially as the deep safety in Utah’s predominantly man defense. Jason Shelley will likely start at second on the depth chart but it would surprise no one to see him rise quickly, he’s both smart and physically up to the task as a talented athlete. It would not be a surprise to see Nygel King find his way over to free safety and Davis move up to strong safety, however. The positions aren’t exactly interchangeable but Utah does require every safety to know both and with the lack of depth or clear starters, they will need the crossover practice. What will be interesting is to see how Drew Rawls and Ben Renfro fit in here. Both were recruited as safeties but played predominantly at wide receiver in high school. Renfro is without a doubt the least experienced, but he is a physical specimen and plays with incredible toughness.
Sewell is best suited to play close to the line of scrimmage, hence the rumor that he will see some time at linebacker come spring. Nygel King and Vonte Davis are both more natural fits at the strong safety as well, and if Jason Shelley does come on strong and can play the free position, it will be easy to move him and have those two step up. Aaron Lowe was a highly sought-after recruit once he played without injury his senior season, and was an absolute terror from all over the field his final year, he plays with great aggression and isn’t afraid to get into the mix and be physical, and his ability to blitz is another plus that could see him earning time. King has some ball skills which is why he’s played both free and corner while at Utah, but he’s also not afraid to lay the wood, and could make Sewell an easy move to linebacker where Utah also seems to need depth.
Safety might be the most curious of all the position groups that we’ve done to this point. By far the best player in the group is R.J. Hubert, who it seems will miss spring with an injury. Sewell played good enough with limited exposure in emergency situations, but what will truly be fascinating to find out is how well can Jason Shelley adapt to playing on the opposite side of the football? He’s a gamer and comes with the mind of a quarterback, and he’s clearly got the kind of athleticism that Utah craves at the position, but will he be able to adapt to a new mindset and develop the technique quickly enough? How much run will the young players get in spring, and who will emerge to take what spots? Will we see another experienced player emerge the way that Terrell Burgess did? The intrigue swirls around this group, and while help is coming in the fall in the form of Nate Ritchie and Kamo’i Latu, there’s enough talent and personnel to make this spring an important piece in assembling Utah’s defense for the 2020 season.
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